CHATHAM–More than 20 local businesspeople and residents filled the Village Board meeting room and spilled out into the lobby last week, many of them concerned about the possibility of new rates for use of village facilities.
The rates issue was one of several matters addressed at the workshop session March 23, where the other major topic was a long-awaited proposal for changes to the village zoning laws intended to bring the law into line with the current village comprehensive plan.
Trustee Mike Wollowitz had prepared a list of fees for the use of village facilities, including the gazebo on the village green and municipal parking lots. He described his list as “off the top of my head,” saying he meant them to be a basis for the board’s discussion of the matter. He also suggested that the board adjust the requirements for event insurance in a way the “puts the onus on the organizers to see that they’re covered.”
The Chatham Area Business and Arts (CABA), a group whose members include local businesses and arts organizations, is seeking permission to stage the group’s 40th annual Summerfest street fair and sale in the village in July. Last year CABA received permission from the village but was charged more than the group had been led to expect for police and for village DPW to clean up afterward. With even more fees under discussion for this year’s Summerfest, CABA members wanted to know what the village planned to charge and about a dozen CABA members turned out.
“This may take time,” Mr. Wollowitz said, referring to a decision on new fees. He then offered a proposal: “Let’s treat Summerfest this year as a special case,” granting permission for the event under the same conditions as last year.
“I totally agree,” said Mayor Tom Curran. He recommended that the town bill CABA for the costs of police and DPW staff and continue work on a fee schedule for the future.
Trustee Lenore Packet told the audience that new fees for events at village sites did not originate with the board. Saying that state law requires the village to charge for any use of municipal property for commercial events, she said, “We didn’t just dream this up.”
CABA President Tom Chulak, co-owner of the Chatham Book Store, described what he called the “unique relationship” between the village and CABA and cited the experience of many Main Street merchants, who say they lose money during Summerfest but consider the event a long-term benefit because it raises the visibility of the community in positive ways.
“This is so much more than a sidewalk fair,” he said.
Steve Campbell, owner of Video Visions on Hudson Avenue, described Summerfest as a “community event.” He faulted what he called the “pettiness of the fees” for anything other than actual costs.
“I think there’s a misconception that we’re rich,” he said. “I don’t make any money that day but… my thought was always, that’s okay, it’s a sacrifice for the community.”
Lael Locke, who headed the effort to update the village Comprehensive Plan and chairs the Zoning Review Committee, reminded board members that “the biggest part of the Comprehensive Plan dealt with the health of Main Street and the business community.”
The discussion concluded with the mayor telling Mr. Chulak that he would confirm the costs for police and DPW services in the next few days.
Also at the March 23 meeting Phil Persinger, an architect and member of the village Zoning Review Committee, presented a summary of the proposed zoning changes, including zoning maps that show lot lines and new density charts. One of the results of the committee’s work is a recommendation for smaller minimum lot sizes, which is possible because earlier lot sizes were based in part on the need for private wells and septic tanks.
Zoning committee member Brin Quell said that many things had changed since village zoning regulations were last updated in 1995, including companies like Air B&B, an online residence sharing service.
She said the committee had contacted other small communities to learn from their experience with zoning updates.
Ms. Quell said that among the objectives of the update were making the zoning process more up to date, more user-friendly and legally correct.
The mayor praised the work of the committee, saying, “Your dedication is something to behold.”
Mayor Curran said the board would review the committee’s recommendations and then hold a public hearing on the proposals.
In other business last week:
• The board approved moving Village Court from the first floor meeting room to the large courtroom on the second floor of the Tracy Memorial Village Hall. The mayor said that the smaller room was not as safe as the upstairs courtroom. The courtroom is not handicap accessible but the mayor said the court can move back downstairs to accommodate people with disabilities
• The board authorized the mayor to send letters of support for state grant applications that would pay for electric car recharging devices at the parking lot near the Kinderhook Bank and the lot next to Chatham Brewing Company.
The next regular meeting of the Village Board is April 13 at 7 p.m. preceded by a budget meeting at 6 p.m. There will also be budget meetings at 6:30 p.m. April 3 (followed by the annual organizational meeting) and at 1 p.m. April 7.
(The Columbia Paper is a member of CABA and Parry Teasdale is a member of the CABA board.)